Thursday, 22 March 2018

What's it like to live beside wind turbines? “A living hell” say Banagher residents

Thursday, 22 March 2018


Recently, I visited the home of Garbally resident, Olive Cunningham, whose home is just over 500m from one of the 169 metre high turbines in the wind farm, owned by Belgian company Storm and managed by Element Power. While there, I also spoke to several other residents about how the noise pollution from the turbines, some of the highest in Ireland, has made their lives intolerable, since the Meenwaun wind farm became operational earlier this year.

LOCAL residents have described how they feel sometimes it's like living on an "airport runway" since the Meenwaun wind farm, near Banagher, became operational.

Before we went into her home, Olive took me to the polytunnel at the side of the house where she told me herself and her husband don't go to any more since the wind turbines became operational. "I have lost all enjoyment of going out here since the turbines went up," she said, because of the noise. I could faintly hear a constant humming in the background, which I pointed out to Olive and she quickly said "that was nothing compared to what the noise had been like in previous weeks", describing it as "living hell".

Later, she told me the couple spend a significant amount of time, particularly, in the summer, out in the tunnel. "But, because of the noise, it's impossible to work and I don't know if we will use it this year or not," she added.
We then went into what was their bedroom but Olive told me they were forced to move to a different room a couple of weeks previously because they were "unable to sleep because of the noise from the turbines". Opening the window, Olive went silent for a moment and there was the humming again. "Yes, you can't hear it in the room when the window is closed at the moment but when it was louder, it was unbearable," she stressed, becoming visibly upset while chatting about the fact they had to move their bedroom, due to the "intolerable noise".
Heading into Olive's sitting room, I met two more residents (who didn't wish to have their names published) and was shown a substantial file of maps and documents pertaining to correspondence between Olive, her neighbours and the companies involved in the construction of the Meenwaun wind farm.

The conversation began about the construction stage of the wind farm where Olive pointed out there was "nothing but dust and dirt from that for the whole summer, every day" along with the noise from the diggers and lorries heading in and out of the site. "There was no consideration for the people living here," one resident told me.
With four turbines now operational. I wanted to find what things had been like for the residents since the wind farm became operational earlier this year. "When you are standing outside, it's like having an aeroplane in the background and when you are inside, it's like a tractor coming up the road that never goes by," the second resident explained to me. "It's a constant noise. Sometimes, it changes to a pulsating noise," they added.
When the noise was "very bad", Olive agreed it was like an aeroplane, which was "stuck outside your house without moving". While, Olive felt she wasn't explaining herself "very well", I could certainly understand what she was saying. "We might as well be living on the runway in Shannon airport," she added.

"Our house is our home. Our three bedrooms are down the other end of the house and they're practically useless. We can't sleep in them. Well, you probably can tonight because they [the turbines] are so low and you don't hear them as much at the moment. But in our back bedroom at night, you can also see the red light from them." So, the couple now sleep in a room that was her children's playroom when they were younger, according to Olive. "Our whole house, even if we won the lotto in the morning, it's no good to us," she added.

Another point, Olive was extremely anxious to highlight was that "none of the land owners, who facilitated the building of the wind turbines live in the area. It's so unfair. I can't take away the right of their privacy to their houses but not only have they taken away my privacy but they have taken away the enjoyment of my garden," she stressed.

Olive also recently approached an auctioneer to put the house up for sale but they refused to do so because of its proximity to the wind farm would deter buyers. "I am very frustrated by the whole situation," she continued.
One of the other residents then added they couldn't believe the windfarm was "even given planning permission" when they saw the plans at first. "Looking at where we are living and that there were houses there as well," they continued.

Going forward, this group of residents all admitted they were "worn out" from it all and they all said their sleeping patterns were now altered because of the noise of the turbines at night-time. "It has turned everything upside down," one lady said.
While I was there, my attention was drawn to the noise monitors, one of which was in Olive's garden. It's understood this is part of a noise monitoring programme, which commenced last month as part of the wind farm's operational compliance and there were others located through out the area. One of the residents feared the other monitors were in fact were too "far away" and therefore, "no use to show the true extent of the noise that we have suffered".

Olive then firstly showed me a log book, outlining precisely when the turbines close to her home were on and off over the last number of weeks and also a book containing signatures of everyone who called to her house in relation to the wind farm. Then, she pulled out an article about a fire at a wind turbine site elsewhere in the country and voiced seriously concerns about what would happen if one of the turbines near her home caught fire.
Olive recalled a story of one night in January where she contacted the company begging them to "pause the turbine" because she couldn't take any more noise. "I got so frustrated. I got so angry that night, I refused to let it go. My nephew and my daughter thought I was going to get a heart attack that night." She then showed me a text message saying that a company representative could pause turbine no 5 "between 6pm and 8am in the morning. "This was dated January 13 and I hadn't slept from January 5....I had had enough at this stage."

The residents, when I was talking to them about how things were now, said the turbines were quieter than in previous weeks. However, they were quick to point out they feared they were being "lured into a false sense of security" and the noise would get as "bad as ever". "On March 8, we thought it was OK as they had quietened by then. But yesterday, I was outside the house and they were as bad as ever," the second resident said to me.
While, it was a constant humming noise while I was there, I did see video footage earlier in the month where the noise from the turbines was horrendous, upholding these residents earlier description of it being like "living near an airport".

And as I got back into my care and headed back to the office, I left these residents not knowing what the future had in store for them and anxiously waiting and extremely fearful as to whether the noise would improve or worsen even more.

Meanwhile, in response to my query, a spokesperson for the windfarm issued the following statement: "Meenwaun wind farm is now in normal operation. A sound monitoring programme, to last a minimum of four weeks, began on February 26 last, as required under Offaly County Council's planning approval for the project. This is in line with normal best practice for all Irish onshore wind projects."
"The aim of the programme is to demonstrate that the windfarm is operating within its approved planning condition noise levels. Meenwaun wind farm management are continuing to engage with local residents as well as Offaly County Council. Monitoring equipment has been located on the property of some local residents by mutual agreement."

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